Vercingetorix (c. 82 BC – 46 BC) was a chieftain of the Arverni tribe; he united the Gauls in a revolt against Roman forces during the last phase of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars.
Vercingetorix came to power in 52 BC: he raised an army and was proclaimed king at Gergovia. He immediately established an alliance with other Gaulish tribes, took control of their combined armies, and led them in Gaul's most significant revolt against Roman power. He won the Battle of Gergovia, in which 46 centurions and 700 legionaries died and more than 6,000 people were injured, whereupon Caesar's Roman legions withdrew.
However, a few months later, in the Battle of Alesia, the Romans besieged his forces. Caesar built a fortification around Alesia to besiege it. However, Caesar's army was surrounded by the rest of Gaul, and Vercingetorix had summoned his allies to attack the besieging Romans, so Caesar built another outer fortification against the expected relief armies (resulting in a doughnut-shaped fortification). The relief came in insufficient numbers: estimates range from 80,000 to 250,000 soldiers. Vercingetorix, the tactical leader, was cut off from them on the inside, and without his guidance the attacks were initially unsuccessful. However, the attacks did reveal a weak point in the fortifications and the combined forces on the inside and the outside almost made a breakthrough. Only when Caesar personally led the last reserves into battle did he finally manage to prevail. This was a decisive battle in the creation of the Roman Empire.
According to Plutarch, Vercingetorix surrendered in dramatic fashion, riding his beautifully adorned horse out of Alesia and around Caesar's camp before dismounting in front of Caesar, stripping himself of his armor and sitting down at his opponent's feet, where he remained motionless until he was taken away. Caesar provides a first-hand contradiction of this account, describing Vercingetorix's surrender much more modestly. He was imprisoned in the Tullianum in Rome for five years, before being publicly displayed in Caesar's triumph in 46 BC. He was executed after the triumph, probably by strangulation in his prison, as ancient custom would have it.
Napoleon III erected a seven-meter-tall statue of Vercingétorix in 1865, created by the sculptor Aimé Millet, on the supposed site of Alesia. The architect for the memorial was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The impressive statue still stands. The inscription on the base, written by Viollet-le-Duc, copied by the famous statement of Julius Caesar, reads (in French):
La Gaule unie
Formant une seule nation
Animée d'un même esprit,
Peut défier l'Univers.
Forming a single nation
Animated by a common spirit,
Can defy the Universe.